Valley of the Dead (2009)
Cargo Cult Press
Review by Nickolas Cook
Only Kim Paffenroth could have written Valley Of The Dead. And that’s as it should be, since he’s a man who knows his religious literature. In this case, he makes the argument (tongue in cheek, one assumes) that Dante Alighieri based his most famous work, The Divine Comedy, in which he explores Hell and argues political, sociological, religious and philosophical points with its denizens, all while giving us a guided Christian view of the netherworlds, on actual events he witnessed during his travels abroad in wilder countries where a zombie plague has ravaged the countryside.
Sounds a bit far reaching?
Well, Paffenroth not only pulls it off as a zombie novel of the first order, but he also manages to make his novel a compellingly well written accoutrement to Dante’s works and life.
The story opens up with a fast pace and never lets up, as Dante suddenly finds himself in the middle of a pitched battle between zombies, a fleeing village full of people, and an army that is killing everything in sight, living or undead.
There he meets Bogdana, a young pregnant woman, who has just lost her husband to the plague and is fleeing before the ravaging army. They escape together, fighting the undead and taking refuge in the woods. Before long, they meet a deserter from the army, Radovan, a soldier who cannot conscience the slaughter of innocents along with the undead.
Together, the trio set forth to find a path over the distant mountains so they can escape the plague and the army.
Their adventures find them in a strange monastery, where they meet, Adam, who offers to show them the way.
What makes this such compelling reading for anyone who has read Dante’s work, is that Paffenroth manages to mirror his fictional journey through Hell, using the undead as the denizens of Hell, and peopling the landscape along the way with real people he will one day write about who suffer in Hell for their various sins. No sin is left unturned: greed, lust, rage, etc., etc. as Paffenroth explores human nature along with Dante as his guide.
If you buy no other zombie book this year (and Lord, there are a ton of them these days), make this the one for which you hand over your hard earned cash. It will entertain and, hopefully, enlighten. It might even get you to pick up Dante’s The Divine Comedy again … for fun this time; no book reports will be due.